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Is investing in Estonian design a good idea?

03.01.2020

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There are two main options when investing in Estonian design. One would be buying the products of well-known Estonian designers, just like buying pieces of art, which could have a small return on investment value, but still bigger than bank deposit interest. The other would be investing in the development of a profitable product by engaging an experienced product designer and earning a bountiful profit from sales.   

Estonians have been a nation of inventors since the beginning of time. The strongest resources of Estonia are the people who can make world-class things out of almost nothing, and do high-quality work in relatively tight conditions. Already during the first period of the Republic of Estonia (1918-1940) the artists of applied arts stood out with their experimental spirit. In contemporary Estonia, a designer is an inventor-developer and entrepreneur in one person, who is engaged in producing a small series of designer goods, be it textile, jewellery, ceramics, accessories, lamps/lighting, sets of small furniture or other products.

A designer makes a project for a product and has it produced by a manufacturer somewhere. Even when the modern design world is equipped with the CAD / CAM and CNC tools of the new industrial revolution, for the most part a design product is still handmade which gives it the features of a unique item. The boundary between design and applied arts is often very thin. The main difference between them is that the motive for creating pieces of applied art is the artist’s desire for self-expression, while the design’s purpose is to solve problems and make life better.

How to evaluate design?

This is a million dollar question, because a unified index for evaluating Estonian design is not yet invented. Even though some criteria do exist with which to evaluate design, including logo design, subjectivity still has a big role to play. In design, most valued is aesthetics combined with ease of use and functionality. Novelty is also an important feature. There is little point in creating yet another thing that already has an existing counterpart. Design certainly also benefits from a bit of witty humour.

Theoretically, in a well designed product there must exist a balance between its form, material, function, construction, technology, ergonomics, ecology and economy, but how to accurately evaluate all this is a much more difficult task. To start with, an investor needs to like the product and only after that is it worthwhile to begin seriously considering its features. In addition, one should examine the date of completion of the product, materials used, quality of execution and find out about its author. Investing in a design product like art will pay off in the long run if the author is a designer whose name works as a brand.

How to determine which designer is a brand? Those are the artists whose work has been at the exhibitions and art fairs, who have taken part in competitions and won prizes, whose work has been bought by the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design, and the media has written about.

Some examples of designers whose name is a brand are Tarmo Luisk, Jaanus Orgusaar, Reet Aus, Maile Grünberg, Ilona Gurjanova, Monika Järg, Mare Kelpman, Stella Soomlais, Mait Summatavet, Tõnis Vellama, Toivo Raidmets and others. Once the overview of the Estonian design world has become clearer, you may discover other new designers whose work is worth buying.

How to find a product designer with whom to implement a profitable idea?

All the above-mentioned tips apply to finding a product designer. It would certainly make sense to do your homework before trying to find the right designer for the right product. 

There are many investment examples in Estonia where venture capitalists have discovered a product designer and after manufacturing a prototype, found a manufacturer and created a product that sells successfully around the globe.

One such example is the electric moped Stigo for which product development designer Matti Õunapuu was chosen, with whom there had already been good working experience. Previously the venture capitalists had included Õunapuu in the product development of a patient-monitoring device called doc@Home, which had been a huge success on the international market and had been recognised by experts in 2003 as the best e-health project in Europe. As that machine was doing very well, the investor turned again to designer Õunapuu with their new idea. This time the proposal was to create a foldable, towable, portable electric scooter that could be recharged from a standard electrical plug and would take up very little space.

It must be said that this type of investment does not bring money either easily or quickly. It requires enthusiasm and commitment from both sides - the designer and the investors. The design process of the electric scooter Stigo took 5 years and a total of 5 different prototypes were built. At some point the process reached a state where the client’s wishes and visions of functionality and technical perfection grew beyond doable. Time and money were running out, but the expected result had not been achieved. With long experience in product design, the designer knew a home truth: a good product is simple and organic by nature. He had a vision how to build a product that would work. Matti Õunapuu decided to build that at his own risk. He found the money and took sole responsibility for developing the new prototype. The right solution was born right away.

Stigo

For this Electric Moped, Stigo, Matti Õunapuu was awarded the Design Award of 2013 by the Cultural Endowment Estonia for Architecture. The new investors found a manufacturer in China and Stigobike is now being sold worldwide.


Ene Läkk,

Design Journalist 

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